Out of compliance on sex assault, out of funding

Assistant secretary for civil rights threatens to withhold federal funds
By: | Issue: October, 2014
September 26, 2014

Colleges and universities across the country are poised to lose more than credibility if they don’t comply with sexual assault regulations and policies.

At Dartmouth University’s national sexual assault summit in July, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education Catherine E. Lhamon spoke bluntly.

“I will go to enforcement, and I am prepared to withhold federal funds,” Lhamon told the group of higher ed leaders gathered on the New Hampshire campus. (Dartmouth is one of 74 institutions currently under federal investigation for Title IX issues, according to an NPR investigation).

Lhamon’s threat is backed up by a trio of bills addressing sexual assault on campus that have gained bipartisan support in Congress. One of these bills is The Campus Safety and Accountability Act, which would allow the Office of Civil Rights to issue a fine worth up to 1 percent of the school’s budget if the institution is not in compliance with regulations, says Saundra Schuster, co-founder and advisory board member of ATIXA, the Association of Title IX Administrators.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily reasonable because I believe schools are working hard to do the right thing, [but] I do think it will get the attention of those in the institution that have fiscal responsibility,” Schuster says.

If passed, these bills have larger implications for institutions than loss of financial support. “I believe that their insurance carriers would likely have concerns about monetary losses, certainly their credit rating may be impacted, and of course the usual issues related to reputation, media coverage and admissions numbers,” says Schuster.